Jonny Wilkinson has been ruled out of the entire 2004 RBS 6 Nations Championship.
England's worst fears have been realised with the news that their World Cup match-winner must undergo an operation on his right shoulder next Wednesday.
It is anticipated Wilkinson will then face a recuperation period of between six and eight weeks, meaning he has no chance of featuring in any of England's championship matches.
Fly-half Wilkinson has played less than an hour's rugby since the World Cup triumph in Australia last November.
But in the knowledge he must go under the surgeon's knife, England head coach Sir Clive Woodward will now hope that Wilkinson at least has a chance of featuring on the summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.
Wilkinson's club Newcastle released a brief statement on their website, www.newcastle-falcons.co.uk.
It read: "Newcastle Falcons announced today (Friday) that Jonny Wilkinson will be having an operation on his right shoulder next Wednesday, February 11.
"It is anticipated that there will be a six-eight week recovery period following the operation."
Woodward had already ruled the 24-year-old out of the opening RBS 6 Nations fixture against Italy in Rome on Sunday week, and the latest developments come after Wilkinson sought a specialist's opinion.
Woodward will have no intention of rushing his star player back into action, and the emphasis from both club and country must now be on Wilkinson making a full recovery.
His loss to the RBS 6 Nations campaign compounds England's problems in the number 10 position.
Wilkinson's obvious replacement - Sale Sharks fly-half Charlie Hodgson - is currently awaiting considered medical opinion on a knee problem and will not be involved against either Italy or England's second opponents Scotland at Murrayfield later this month.
It means that Woodward must now assess the claims of Paul Grayson, Olly Barkley and Alex King for the key playmaker's job.
But whoever Woodward opts for, replacing English international rugby's record points-scorer and one of the world's highest-profile players will be a daunting task.
After Ireland's heroic big-game hunt of the Springboks and Scotland's six-try runaround of the Pumas, the challenge of engineering the most spectacular win of the autumn series now falls on Wales, writes Peter Jackson.